BEDFORD — Some members of the Bedford County community are voicing concerns with the prospect that the county-run nursing home could be sold, saying they were blindsided by the announcement and are worried their loved ones’ quality of care could be adversely affected.

Earlier this week, Bedford County posted notice of a special-called meeting Monday evening for a public hearing regarding the potential sale of property “encompassing the Bedford County Nursing Home.”

Originally established as the County Poor Farm in 1831, the Bedford County Nursing Home in the Falling Creek complex at 1229 County Farm Road has a long local history as a publicly owned institution.

Nursing home operations are overseen by Bedford County officials, who approve budgets and payroll, proposed projects or hires, and other operating matters.

Bedford County public information officer Shelley Basinger confirmed Monday’s public hearing is regarding potential sale of the nursing home, though she said Bedford County staff want to emphasize this does not mean a sale is a “done deal.”

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Basinger said county officials will not conduct media interviews till after Monday night’s meeting.

A statement from Bedford County’s public information office said Bedford County is considering sale to privately owned Roanoke-based American HealthCare, LLC, operator of Heritage Hall Healthcare and Rehabilitation Centers, “due to its positive reputation in the region, similar business model in terms of payer mix with Medicaid residents and focus on providing care in rural areas.”

The statement said American HealthCare’s company culture “aligns well with Bedford County’s.”

“With the ever-increasing regulatory environment surrounding nursing homes, the responsibility to make wise decisions in this area is best addressed by industry experts who specialize in healthcare compliance, rather than local government officials who do not have this expertise. This has always been a challenge, but the COVID-19 pandemic enhanced the Board’s curiosity to explore other options,” the county statement said. “The healthcare employee COVID-19 vaccine mandate, as reaffirmed by the United States Supreme Court, is contrary to the positions of all Board members and has further complicated uniformity with how employees are treated across all departments of County government.”

American HealthCare representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.

Some nursing home staff members and family members who have loved ones living at the home said they were first notified of the development this week, seven days or less prior to the special called public hearing.

Primary concerns shared by staff and family members who spoke to The News & Advance included potential deterioration in the quality of care residents receive by transitioning from locally overseen public care to a privately owned for-profit company, and what staff and family members feel is a lack of transparency from their local leadership.

Nursing home staff said they were first notified of the potential sale Monday, just one week prior to the public hearing where the Board of Supervisors will vote on whether or not to approve selling the facility to American HealthCare.

Bill Vickery, a registered nurse who works at the Bedford County Nursing Home after 18 years working at Oakwood Health and Rehabilitation Center in Bedford, said he thinks selling the facility would be “a disaster.”

Having worked at other nursing home facilities, including in an administrative capacity, Vickery said he is worried a for-profit company would make staffing cuts, which in turn could negatively impact the quality of care offered to residents.

Despite being a smaller organization, Vickery said, the Bedford County Nursing Home has four activities staff, a staff education nurse, and an infection control nurse, which is an aspect he likes about the current model.

“A for-profit company, no matter how good-intentioned they are, they’re not going to provide that same level. It’s just the way it is,” Vickery said.

Noting a high trend of nursing homes being sold to other companies over the last several years, Vickery said he was concerned if a sale goes through, the Bedford County facility could get sucked into that trend.

“It might be, yes, maybe the initial company is a good company. But you don’t know; they’re not bound to not sell it to the next company. Once it’s out of your hands, you’ve lost control,” he said.

Family members of county nursing home residents said they were not notified of the development until Wednesday, giving only five days’ notice of the public hearing that will decide the fate of the place their loved ones live.

Julie Stanley’s 98-year-old mother has lived at the Bedford County Nursing Home since 2018.

“We wouldn’t want any other place for her,” Stanley said.

She appreciates the many activities provided for residents and said staff have been “more than outstanding,” showing compassion and care. Stanley fears that the quality of care would deteriorate if the facility is sold to a private company.

Coming from a career working for Virginia government health care-related departments and closely with Medicaid providers, Stanley said she has seen what can happen when a nursing home facility is privatized.

“I have long understood that that is publicly not the best thing to happen to a nursing home, in terms of quality of care of the residents,” she said. “The current nursing home structure operated by the county is completely accountable to the board, and the citizens and Bedford County, and that accountability will not be there anymore.”

Five days’ notice of a potential sale of her mother’s nursing home, with little information about why this is happening, seemed “unconscionable,” Stanley said.

Tracey Jamerson, of Bedford, said her 81-year-old mother has lived in the county nursing home since February, finally getting in after being on the waiting list since last October. With limited options for those on Medicaid or Medicare, the Bedford County Nursing Home was one of the best available options — but Jamerson said she was impressed with the facility for other reasons upon visiting compared with some alternative places she had looked into, from quality of care to upkeep of the facility.

“It was like a breath of fresh air when I went up there and toured,” Jamerson said.

Jamerson likewise worries about losing the quality of care and a community environment for nursing home residents if Bedford County gives up oversight of the nursing home. Having heard stories of how residents in some nursing homes owned by private, for-profit companies can end up in overcrowded, neglectful, otherwise negative situations, Jamerson said she is concerned a lack of local oversight and accountability by the County through public care could result in similar problems, especially if a new owner decides to do things like make staffing cuts.

“I think that this is a rare gem, and it needs to be preserved. I don’t think privatizing it is going to be good for the patients or the staff,” Jamerson said. “I hate to see it, after I’ve waited this long to get her [my mom] in there, finally get her in there and get her settled, and then to hear this.”

Jamerson and Stanley both said they heard about the public hearing from the nursing home, not from the county offices.

Nursing home staff and resident family members encouraged the public to attend the public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday at the Bedford County administration building on 122 East Main Street, Bedford, or contact their supervisors to voice their input.